The Music

The earliest written bagpipe music in the British Isles comes from Northumberland. William Dixon’s manuscript from the 1730s was mostly written to be played on Half-Long or Border pipes, but about half the tunes have a single octave range and were probably intended to be played on a simple, keyless Northumbrian pipe chanter. These tunes are almost all extended variation sets on dance tunes in various rhythms – reels, jigs, compound triple-time tunes and triple-time hornpipes.

At the beginning of the 19th century the first collection specifically for Northumbrian smallpipes was published, John Peacock’s Favorite Collection. Peacock was the last of the Newcastle Waits. The collection contains a mixture of simple dance tunes, and extended variation sets. The variation sets, such as Cut and Dry Dolly are all for the single octave keyless chanter, but the dance tunes are often adaptations of fiddle tunes – many of these are Scottish, such as Money Musk. A pupil of Peacock, Robert Bewick, the son of Thomas Bewick the engraver, left five manuscript notebooks of pipe tunes dated between 1832 and 1843, are from the earliest decades in which keyed chanters were common, and they give a good early picture of the repertoire of a piper at this stage in the modern instrument’s development. Roughly contemporary with this is Lionel Winship’s manuscript, dated 1833, which has been made available in facsimile on FARNE; it contains copies of the Peacock tunes, together with Scottish, Irish, and ballroom dance tunes.

As keyed chanters became more common, adaptations of fiddle music to be playable on smallpipes became more feasible, and common-time hornpipes such as those of the fiddler James Hill became a more significant part of the repertoire. Many dance tunes in idioms similar to fiddle tunes have been composed by pipers specifically for their own instrument – The Barrington Hornpipe, by Thomas Todd, written in the late 19th century, is typical. Borrowing from other traditions and instruments has continued – in the early-to-mid 20th century, Billy Pigg, and Jack Armstrong for instance, adapted many tunes from the Scottish and Irish pipe and fiddle repertoires to smallpipes, as well as composing tunes in various styles for the instrument.

Music Books

The Society has published a number of tunebooks over the years, as well as supporting others in ensuring that printed music for the pipes is widely available. Currently in print books are available from our shop.

Everything in the shop is available to both members and non-members, although members do receive a discount. If you’re not a member and would like to join, click here.

For Music published by the Society we now have an excellent Tunes Index which we think lists all the tunes in all the publications we have for sale, listed in alphabetical order. Simply scroll down until you find the tune you need and you will see not only the book you’ll find it in, but the page number too. Also the key it’s in and the composer are listed where known.